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In the first verse of the song “Real American,” Rick Derringer sings, “I am a real American/ Fight for what’s right, fight for your life.”
With this September week in particular making some people around the country more patriotic than usual, how fitting was it that on the night before the anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil the United State’s Men’s National Team qualified for the 2014 World Cup?
On Tuesday, the USMNT blanked Mexico 2-0 in Columbus, Ohio. The American’s victory, coupled with Panama’s 2-2 draw with Honduras, assured the Americans a trip to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The win on Tuesday night was not just a patriotic one for the USMNT but rather a culmination of more than a year of hard work through qualification in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football region.
And the way things worked out, it was more than appropriate in some aspects.
How fitting was it that the U.S., forever an afterthought in the worldwide soccer discussion, defeated Mexico for the fourth consecutive time at Crew Stadium, all by the scores of 2-0?
How fitting was it that the game was played in the heartland of America? How fitting was it that star midfielder Landon Donovan, playing in his first set of World Cup qualifiers in 15 months, scored from the Mexican doorstep to seal the win in the 78th minute?
The answers? Very, very and very.
The road to Brazil in 2014 was supposed to be a sure bet, especially after the hiring of former German star and national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Klinsmann, who coached Germany to a third-place finish at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, was thrust into the position in July 2011 after the firing of Bob Bradley with less than two weeks to prepare for a friendly match with Mexico.
Klinsmann’s first order of business was to completely change the culture within U.S. soccer.
Granted, changing an entire culture is going to take more than two years. But what Klinsmann has done is rather remarkable. Gone are the days when the U.S. will sit back and let superior teams control ball possession, as the German has tried to instill a style of attacking soccer. Also gone are the days when established veterans are shoo-ins to make the national team roster, as evidenced by the recent roster droppings of such players as Donovan, captain Carlos Bocanegra and Jozy Altidore.
Michael Bradley, the son of former national team coach Bob Bradley, has grown into his own and established his place as the playmaker for the Americans. The younger Bradley has excelled in Klinsmann’s system, letting him roam free and control the flow of the game. In just a few short years, Bradley has solidified his place at the national level and has put to rest some criticism that he was given his position due to his father being the head coach.
For the Americans to take the next step in gaining global respect, which is ultimately advancing out of the group stage and deep into the knockout rounds at the World Cup with some consistency, Klinsmann will be the man charged with undertaking the movement.
The first step is to schedule high-quality opponents for friendlies in the months leading up to the World Cup in June.
The next, and the hardest, is to continue to grow U.S. soccer and expand the talent depth farther than it already is now. Players like Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson and Graham Zusi need to continue to improve so that one injury to a veteran player will not be as devastating with such talent on the bench.
Klinsmann will lean on his established veterans, like Clint Dempsey, goalkeeper Tim Howard and Donovan, who will no doubt make his fourth World Cup roster.
As much as Klinsmann has been asked to do in his short time at the helm of the USMNT, he has really been challenged with trying to put the beauty back into the beautiful game.
While a tough challenge, he surely gives the United States the best chance at winning a World Cup.
And don’t worry; Klinsmann will fight to make the United States a respectable opponent.